WASHINGTON - House Democratic leaders briefed party members yesterday on new legislation that would fund the Iraq war through July, then give Congress the option of cutting off money if conditions did not improve.
If members agree to back the plan as expected, a vote on the new war-spending bill could come as early as tomorrow.
Democrats said the plan was likely to provide more than $40 billion for the war and other high-priority projects, with another vote "midsummer" on whether to release more money for military operations.
The plan had dim prospects of surviving in the Senate, where most Democrats want to guarantee funding for troops through September and were trying to negotiate a deal with the White House.
House Democrats said they were not too concerned with getting the White House's blessing.
"They know what we're doing, obviously," Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D., Ill.) said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said she had promised to find common ground with the Bush administration but made clear last week that if the Democrats didn't find that, "we would stand our ground."
White House spokesman Tony Snow yesterday called the approach "just bad management."
"We think it is appropriate to be able to give commanders what they are going to need, and also forces in the field, so that you can make long-term decisions in trying to build the mission," Snow said.
Congressional Republicans immediately dismissed the Democratic proposal as unfairly rationing funds needed in combat and said their members would not support it.
Democrats "should not treat our men and women in uniform like they are children who are getting a monthly allowance," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R., Ohio).
Rep. Adam Putnam (R., Fla.) added after a GOP caucus meeting yesterday: "It's an irresponsible approach. You do not fund wars 60 days at a time."
The Democratic proposal follows President Bush's veto last week of a $124.2 billion bill that would have funded the war in Iraq but that demanded that troops begin coming home Oct. 1. Republicans agreed to uphold the veto, and Democrats were forced back to the drawing board.
House Democrats want to provide a bill that supports the troops but does not give Bush a blank check on the deeply unpopular and costly war. Further complicating matters, several House liberals oppose funding the war at all, while other, more conservative Democrats are reluctant to tie strings to a bill needed by the troops.
Several Senate Democrats said they would oppose a short-term funding bill because it left open the question of whether troops would get the resources they need after July.
"There's the question of why it wasn't fully funded," said Sen. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.).
If the House bill fails in conference with the Senate, Democratic leaders say their members will have other chances to affect Iraq policy. Party leaders have pointed to the 2008 defense authorization bill and the 2008 appropriations bills.
However, that plan could meet resistance by members reluctant to watch their carefully crafted bills sink under a presidential veto.
Rep. Ike Skelton (D., Mo.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has drafted a defense authorization bill that requires U.S. officials to report on progress made on the war. But according to a panel aide familiar with the draft, the bill so far does not include a tough mandate to end the war.
Two retired Army major generals with experience in Iraq will appear in TV commercials critical of President Bush's handling of the war, with the spots targeted at key House and Senate Republicans.
Financed by VoteVets.org, the $500,000 in ads will feature retired Maj. Gens. John Batiste and Paul Eaton, both of whom have
publicly criticized the Pentagon's civilian leadership in the past. The ads, starting today, are timed to coincide with debate in Congress over war funding.
The markets chosen by VoteVets are designed to pressure GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, John Sununu of New Hampshire, John W. Warner or Virginia, and Norm Coleman of Minnesota; all are up for reelection next year. The ads also will run
in some GOP-held House districts, among them that of Phil English of Pennsylvania.
- Associated Press